Environment Forum

The Green Gauge: Shell and BASF guilty in Brazil

A Shell petrol station sign is seen reflected in a puddle in London February 4, 2010. Royal Dutch Shell Plc said it planned even deeper cuts to its oil refining and retail operations after downstream weakness caused a 75 percent fall in fourth-quarter profits to $1.18 billion (743.87 million pounds).  The photograph has been rotated 180 degrees.  REUTERS/Luke Macgregor (BRITAIN - Tags: BUSINESS ENERGY)

Royal Dutch Shell and German chemicals maker BASF were dealt a costly blow last month in a court ruling in Brazil that found both companies liable for contaminating groundwater with toxic waste northwest of Sao Paulo.

The ruling puts Shell and BASF in the lead position in this installment of The Green Gauge, a breakdown of companies that made headlines Aug. 22 to Sept. 6 for winning or losing credibility based on environment-related activity.

Selections of companies were made by Christopher Greenwald, director of data content at ASSET4, a Thomson Reuters business that provides investment research on the environmental, social and governance performance of major global corporations. These ratings are not recommendations to buy or sell.

bot25 Royal Dutch Shell and BASF

A court in Paulinia, Brazil has ruled that Shell and BASF are responsible for the “collective damage” caused by toxic emissions to the groundwater at a large pesticide plant 120 kilometres northwest of Sao Paulo, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) reported. Shell built the plant in the late 1970s and BASF controlled it between 2000 and 2002.  The total liabilities are estimated to be $626 million, which include payments of $360 million to over 1,000 individuals who have experienced illnesses believed to have been caused by toxic chemicals at the plant.  BASF claimed that Shell is solely responsible for the problem. Both BASF and Shell said they plan to appeal the ruling.

Greenpeace Brazil originally exposed the problem  of toxic pollution at Shell’s plant in this 2001 report.

‘Friendly’ push for Facebook to dump coal

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, delivers a keynote address at the company's annual conference in San Francisco, California July 23, 2008. REUTERS/Kimberly White

With half a million signatures backing it up, Greenpeace fired off a letter to Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg today calling for the world’s largest social network to cut ties to coal-fired power at its new data center in Oregon.

“Other cloud-based companies face similar choices and challenges as you do in building data centers, yet many are making smarter and cleaner investments,” executive director of Greenpeace, Kumi Naidoo, writes. He points to Google and its a recent agreement to buy wind power from NextEra Energy for the next 20 years to power its data centers.

The letter adds to what’s turning into a miserable week for Zuckerberg, who is also fighting a civil lawsuit by a man who claims to own a huge chunk of the social network site and is seeking to uncover “unnecessary details” about Zuckerberg’s private life.

Hemp car sparks a buzz

Undated promotional photo shows the Motive Kestrel electric vehicle. REUTERS/Handout

The blogosphere is abuzz about an electric car made of hemp developed by a team of Canadian companies who plan its debut at the EV trade show in Vancouver next month.

The compact four-passenger car, with its body made of hemp bio-composite, will have a top speed of 55 miles per hour and a range of 25 to 100 miles before needing to be recharged, depending on the battery, CBC News reported.

Calgary-based developer Motive Industries Inc. said hemp achieves the same mechanical properties as glass composite without the weight, an important goal when designing the body of a battery-powered vehicle.

In Gaza, it’s not easy being green

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– This story by Theodore May originally appeared in Global Post. –

In the small central Gaza town of Deir el Belah, one family has made a cottage industry out of green innovation.

“There was a period in Gaza when there was no gas or you had to wait for hours in line to get gas. So we made the oven according to our needs,” said Maher Youssef Abou Tawahina, who, along with his father, runs a hardware shop in town.

Abou Tawahina is referring to a solar-powered oven that he and his family invented two years ago. The oven, which sits in the family’s backyard, takes five minutes to heat up using electricity. Then, its glass ceiling uses the sun to continue the heating process. The oven is not quite hot enough for baking bread, he said, but it’s perfect for roasting chicken.

Designers pitch ‘trashy’ island in Pacific

An artist's rendition of the urban portion of Recycled Island, courtesy of WHIM Architecture. REUTERS/Handout

From time to time we are reminded there is a floating pool of plastic bottles, caps, and broken down debris roughly the size of Texas swirling in the Pacific Ocean.

There’s a collective disgust when it bobs back into view, like it did this week after the Guardian profiled a group of Dutch eco-architects and their ambitious design of a so-called Recycled Island made entirely of the trash now floating in the North Pacific, between Hawaii and San Francisco.

Most commentators acknowledge the award-winning architects‘ project, with costs still undetermined, is realistically never going to get off the drafting table.

R.I.P. cap and trade? Not just yet

– Valerie Volcovici is a Washington, DC-based journalist for Point Carbon, a Thomson Reuters company that provides news and intelligence on environmental and energy markets. Any views expressed here are her own. —

The architects of the Western Climate Initiative couldn’t have asked for better timing for the release of the blueprints for their planned cap-and-trade system on July 27.

With national headlines the week before calling Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s legislation to set up a federal greenhouse gas emissions trading system “shelved”, “jettisoned” or even “dead”, the release of the highly technical details of the WCI’s cap-and-trade plans drew more attention than would have otherwise been expected.

The Green Gauge: Black mark on Enbridge

Gretchen King holds a protest sign as she joins residents in downtown Marshall to protest the oil spill on the Kalamazoo River July 30, 2010. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

Enbridge’s stain on the Kalamazoo River in central Michigan pushed this Calgary-based energy delivery company to the headlines as details emerged about 840,000 gallons of crude that spilled from one of their pipelines into a creek on July 26.

Enbridge leads this installment of The Green Gauge, a breakdown of companies that made headlines July 18 to August 9 for winning or losing credibility based on environment-related activity.

Selections of companies were made by Christopher Greenwald, director of data content at ASSET4, a Thomson Reuters business that provides investment research on the environmental, social and governance performance of major global corporations. These ratings are not recommendations to buy or sell.

Are Americans bullying BP?

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With all the comparisons to the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989, there’s at least one arena where BP appears to be head and shoulders above its oil-spill predecessor — suffering public mockery.

They can thank the age of social media.

There’s the fake Twitter account, BPGlobalPR, posing as the public relations mouthpiece for an arrogant powerhouse. Today it tweeted its 184,466 followers: “Attention lazy fishermen! If you won’t clean our mess, we’re taking your money. Fair is fair.” They also produced this fake press conference.

YouTube, not around in 1989, is brimming with satirical videos targeting BP. There’s BP spills coffee, now at more than 9 million views.  Spoof ads are also hot contenders for “viral” status:  Oil is natural and the slickly produced BP Bringing People Together are two of the more popular.

The Green Gauge: IBM rides a high

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If there’s any tech company that has been able to constantly transform itself over the past century to actually be sustainable, it’s got to be IBM.

Last week the global IT giant announced its efficiency figures for 2009 and it meant good news for the environment, a bi-weekly analysis of companies in the news by ASSET4 data providers shows.

Selections of companies were made by Christopher Greenwald, director of data content at ASSET4, a Thomson Reuters business that provides investment research on the environmental, social and governance performance of major global corporations. These ratings are not recommendations to buy or sell.

Fold sustainability into economies, G20 urged

G20/CANADA-PROTESTS

Consensus among sustainability experts at a Toronto conference this week was that world leaders in the Group of  20 nations face a fecund opportunity to make gains integrating environmental concerns with all other levels of economic development.

“Finance ministers are the real environment ministers. Environment ministers have weak, minor voices at the table at which economic decisions are made,” said chair Maurice Strong, President of the Council of the United Nations University for Peace, former Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, and former president of Power Corporation, head of Petro Canada and Ontario Hydro.

“Environmentalists cannot run the economy,” Strong said.

Economist Sylvia Ostry, former Chief Statistician at Statistics Canada and a member of the influential Washington-based financial advisory body the Group of Thirty says the best contribution the G20 could make to sustainable development is to strike a new institution with experts from a variety of backgrounds.

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